Rain Water Harvesting Improves Lives of Small Farmers

21 Mar 2011

"If there's a bad year, we can stay up to 20 days without rain. The young crops die, that's the problem over here", says Rabiet E. Mkumbwa, 60, in front of his home in from Mwembe village in Tanzania’s Kilimanjaro region.

With less than 400 mm of rain annually, when 900-1000 mm is the average in the country, this is one of Tanzania’s driest region. Climate change is affecting the rain patterns and this year, like last, the traditionally rainy months of October and November brought no steady showers. Erosion is another serious problem that reduces soil fertility and crop yield.

To help the villagers farm their land, feed their families and earn an income, UNDP supported a local NGO, the Same Agricultural Improvement Project (SAIPRO) in constructing large pools to collect water streaming down the hills. These micro-dams are based on the concept of traditional local water reservoirs known as ndiva.

The dam is owned and maintained by a group of community members, 20 women and 30 men, who clean out the mud from the pool and manage the distribution and channeling of the water.

The micro-dam in Mwembe can store up to 220 000 litres of rain water that flows down the surrounding hills. The dam’s valve is opened once a week to distribute water to the community members’ farm plots. Once released, the water is manually channeled to the plots that cover 200 acres of farmland and serve up to 150 households.

With improved water supply to their plots, small-scale farmers in the region are not only feeding their families but also earning extra income from selling their produce at local markets. Their children can attend school, they can afford keeping poultry and cows and their houses have been improved with iron sheets replacing hay roofs.

To improve the flow and maximize the reach of the water, villagers are encouraged to build canals from the dam to the plots. “By collecting small contributions you can buy cement and do the construction in phases,” says Stella Zaarh, from UNDP Tanzania’s GEF Small Grants Programme.

Secretary-General Statement on World Water Day

World Water Day 2011